“It took me 18 years of breaking my back to win a gold medal at the Pan-American Championships in the Adult Black Belt division.”
This is but a small excerpt from a recent conversation I had over the phone with a Black Belt Pan-American Champion expressing his frustration of an all-too-common plague upon our jiu-jitsu community, the plague of creating a false front. A plague of deception, one that leads readers to believe the untrue. See, when I said ‘Black Belt Pan-American Champion’ at the beginning of this paragraph, you more than likely assumed that I am talking about an Adult Black Belt Pan-American Champion. Anything other than that would certainly not have the prestige to be worthy of being referred by the classical term “Pan-American’ or ’World Champion’, would it?
I am, in fact, talking about an actual Adult division Pan-American Black Belt Champion. This is someone who qualifies to fight in the Master’s division yet still competes oftentimes with the adults. Why is he so passionate about the distinction? Why shouldn’t a Master’s 5 World Champion brag on his instagram profile that he is simply an IBJJF World Champion?
From my observation, he brings up a valid point. If you look closely, there is a subtle but disturbing trend sprouting up within the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community, one of creating a false impression that the veritable weight of each division is a non-factor in regards to carrying the unperturbed title of ‘World Champion.’ Even the Black Belt Pan-American Champion admits that the ‘World Champion’ title is not something he has earned yet, thus he never presents himself as a ‘World Champion’.
Let us compare this to the idea of attaining a doctorate degree. When someone says they are a doctor, you immediately assume that they are a medical doctor. It is universally accepted that in all walks of life, whatever culture, whatever country you are from, if someone says they are a doctor, you assume medical doctor. A dentist would say they are a dentist. They would not be lying if they said they are a doctor, but what conversation have you ever witnessed goes like this?
Dentist: I’m a doctor
Bystander: Oh what type of doctor?
Dentist: A doctor of dental science.
Technically this is true. The degree of “DDS” stands not only for Danaher Death Squad, it is also known internationally as Doctor of Dental Science. More recently, an equivalent degree has been created, a Dental Medical Doctor or DMD. This naming comes even closer to that true Medical Doctor moniker. Still, you would refer to yourself as a dentist. Let’s be real.
Where do we see this trend in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? You will inevitably come across an Instagram profile of someone advertising that they are a World Champion, leaving out the ‘Master’s’ part of their title. Becoming a Black Belt Adult World Champion carries with it a tremendous amount of prestige, one that can land you DVD sales, seminar bookings, and the overall ability to single-handedly create a sustainable living off of jiu-jitsu.
The factor that causes us to see a ‘fake black belt’ pop up every so often is the same factor that causes someone to identify simply as a ‘World Champion’ when they are a “Master’s World Champion”: delusion.
If you are a Master’s World Champion and you present yourself as a “Master’s World Champion”, that is a tremendous feat. You ought to be applauded and take pride in your accomplishment. You have done something that greater than 99% of people who practice jiu-jitsu will never accomplish. In itself, it holds weight.
The lone title of ‘World Champion’ though is a powerful statement. It ought to be reserved for an elite few, those who traditionally become household names in the jiu-jitsu landscape. The Buchecha’s, the Cobrinha’s, the Lepri’s.
I could not tell you one Master’s World Champion in any division from this past year. I could tell you a lot of Adult World Champion’s off the top of my head. That’s the difference.
The back-breaking work, sacrifice, tears, blood, hours, and complete lifestyle management that goes into becoming an Adult Black Belt World Champion is equivalent to a professional athlete at the highest level. A company known as Grappler’s Escape, one of which I am a big fan and supporter of, annually puts on jiu-jitsu cruises with, as they advertise, ‘World Champions.’ It goes without saying that they only and will forever only mean “Adult Black-Belt World Champions.’ At one of their camps, I overheard a man with his wife boisterously strike up a conversation with Buchecha.
“Hey did you know all three of us are World Champions?”
Needless to say it turned a few heads. When pressed for the division, he stated ‘Blue-Belt Master 3.’ Those same heads ended up turning back away in disappointment.
When I got on the phone with the Pan-Am Black Belt Champion expressing his frustration, I immediately thought of this instance in my past, the moment of hearing in that blue belt’s voice the wisp of false pride and delusion, the smug air with which his voice hung in the wind to be overheard by anyone within earshot that he is in the same league as Buchecha.
This same vibe carries itself all over social media. If you are reading this article and are a Master’s or Juvenile World Champ, or an Adult non-Black Belt World Champion, take pride in that fact. Let it be known, let it serve as a motivator and milestone for you. Understand the distinction that lies between your division and the division with the youngest, most experienced, elite athletes on the planet; the Adult Black Belt Division. You can call yourself a 5x World Champion if those are five wins at the Adult Black Belt Division. Otherwise, be real and include the proper footnotes.
I have legitimately met PhD’s that call themselves ‘a doctor’, when they couldn’t even tell you any basic anatomy of the head or neck; none of the cranial nerves, none of the muscles of facial expression, none of the intrinsic neck muscles, none of it. A medical doctor, a dentist, and a chiropractor could easily rattle off any of this information. This just gives you the wide ranging technicality that the term ‘doctor’ has in our society, as does the term ‘World Champion.’ A ‘PhD’ is a Philosophical Doctorate, technically the term doctor is in their title. Again, even if I’m a Doctor of Chiropractic, I’ll still only introduce myself in everyday conversation as a Chiropractor. I stand with pride in what it is rather than pretending like I would rather be someone else.
There is more to a person beyond a title anyway.